KHALID: Of devolution and tribalism: 'Washenzi' have rights too

Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri demonstrates with supporters in Nakuru on January 8 / Ben Ndonga
Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri demonstrates with supporters in Nakuru on January 8 / Ben Ndonga

Over the weekend here in Mombasa, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the construction of the Mama Ngina New Generation Water Front Park.The launch of the ultra modern park was done in the presence of Raila Odinga, Governor Hassan Joho and Coast politicians, among others. During his speech, the President took a swipe at a section of politicians from Central Kenya who had earlier complained of being marginalised by his government on development.

The politicians claimed their region had not received a fair share of the ongoing development projects in the country. They had argued that the President had neglected their region and was busy initiating projects in other areas. With an apparent reference to the complaining politicians, the President called them “washenzi” as he went on to explain that his government will ensure development in every corner of the country.

Since then, there has been much hullaballoo about the “washenzi” reference, with Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri specifically leading his followers in a demonstration condemning the “washenzi” remark by Uhuru. Many viewed this as an act of defiance against the President.

To Haki Africa, the “washenzi” debate brought to the fore the primary question of devolution and ethnicity. According to the Constitution, one of the objects of devolution is “to ensure equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya”. This means with the implementation of devolution, every region is supposed to benefit fairly without necessarily relying on the national government.

The distribution of resources to the counties is meant to ensure each region develops to the satisfaction of its people. The role of the national government then becomes to only facilitate a conducive environment for the counties to operate optimally. With the current “washenzi” debate, however, it means the county governments are not self-reliant when it comes to development and still require national government’s support. If this is true, it then means the devolved system is not working as it is and needs to be re-planned.

The “washenzi” debate has also shown Kenya is still struggling to shrug off the disease of tribalism, 55 years after independence. That we still have leaders who are not happy when development is initiated in other corners of the country other than their own is a pity and an embarrassment. It is very disappointing to hear elected leaders warning against bringing certain communities together, but supporting the coming together of other selected communities. Comments by Ngunjiri that the President should concentrate on bringing together only identified communities and leave out others should be treated with the contempt they deserve. In fact, these comments should be investigated by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and where malice is proven, the politician should be barred from ever contesting and holding a public position.

As a nation, we should jealously guard our diversity and unity. We must not allow a few politicians to drive a wedge between our communities and plant seeds of discord.

All said and done, we must also remember the so-called “washenzi” have rights too. First and foremost, they have the freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 33 of the Constitution. While they can express their concerns and call for development in their region, this must not be done at the expense of inciting the public and promoting tribalism.

They also have the right to demonstrate as guaranteed by Article 37. No person should be targeted by security authorities for taking to the streets to express their displeasure of a government decision. Security authorities must be careful not to drive a political agenda and appear partisan. In a democratic society, criticism should be welcomed as long as it is done in a non-discriminatory manner devoid of tribal hashtags.

Kenya has come a long way to be divided along tribal and regional blocs.